East End residents and civic association leaders spoke before the Long Island Regional Economic Council at a public forum in Riverhead designed to get feedback on how to plan for future economic growth on Monday afternoon.
The meeting lasted nearly four hours, with topics ranging from sewage treatment and shellfishing to energy efficiency and the quality of life on the East End.
Denis Yuen, who formerly oversaw the homeless-aid organization Maureen's Haven, said the council should be aware of job issues caused by the closing of a Capital One bank at the old North Fork Bank location in Mattituck later this year.
"On the North Fork, specifically in Mattituck, we're going to have a very big hole to fill come December," he said, adding that the closing would cut an estimated 110 jobs. Yuen urged the council to incentivize businesses to move into the vacant property.
Civic leader Kevin McDonald suggested the board support a pilot project to upgrade East End septic systems and the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant to reduce nitrogen in Suffolk County waterways produced by human waste. While he admitted the topic is "un-sexy," McDonald said that high nitrogen levels in water affects everything from new businesses to fishing industries.
"You could redevelop areas that would otherwise be restricted by the ... Suffolk County Health Department, you could improve water quality. That's a win for the environment and the economy and the redevelopment of Long Island," he said.
Karen Rivara, a shellfish farmer from Southold, spoke after McDonald and agreed that water quality was important to the local fishing industry. Rivara also described a popular ocean-leasing program that allows fishermen to "farm" shellfish on the bay floor. She suggested the council look into expanding that program to include hard clams and bay scallops.
Peter Gollon, energy chairman of the Long Island Sierra Club, encouraged the council to look into efficient energy use.
"Energy efficiency is cost-effective for the person or company that knows enough to make the upgrade and has the financing available to do so," Gollon said. He said that upgrading energy efficiency would create skilled labor jobs and decrease energy costs.
Gollon also proposed that businesses develop technology to support a "smart grid," or an electric grid network that can accept and distribute power and then export that technology across the country.
However, several East End residents urged the council not to sacrifice their way of life for an economic boost.
"We don't want our area built up, or combined with Nassau County," said Lynda Edwards, of Amagansett. "We take care of our own. Lower taxes and limited government is the best economic plan for the East End."
Another East End resident, Elaine Kahl, of Southampton, said she realizes that the area needs jobs, but was concerned that too much development would drive tourism and second-homeowners away from the East End's quiet way of life.
"They come from New York, they come from out of state, they come down to the East End to relax," Kahl said. "We do not hear in any of your renderings the fact that the people in the communities need your help in terms of maintaining their quality of life, their exclusivity to where they live in their communities."
Kahl added that these people of the East End deserve to have their input heard.
"They worked like I did, three to four jobs, to build out East to retire out there," she said. "We're hurting out there, people are selling their homes and we're dealing with a lot of different issues that have never been resolved."